On the list of frustrating things, heavy traffic ranks pretty high. And
drivers who don’t signal, don’t look, won’t move over, cut people off,
speed, tailgate, go too slow, or drive incredibly noisy or incredibly large
vehicles rank among the world’s most frustrating people. And as we all know from first hand experience, it’s very easy for us to
condemn drivers who get on our nerves. On the other hand, most of us find it
quite easy to forgive our own driving mistakes.
I wish I could
say this phenomenon only pertained to driving. But the truth is, we find it
far easier to forgive ourselves for just about anything than to forgive the
same mistakes in others.
Jesus highlights this all too human tendency in Matthew 18:33-35:
“‘Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on
you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured,
until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you
forgive your brother from your heart.”
It might be easy to assume from this statement that God forgives us on
the basis of our forgiveness of others, a simple transaction – if we forgive
others then God will forgive us. But that would be a false assumption. God
forgives us on the basis of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on our behalf and in
our place, and on no other basis.
In such statements, Jesus is not prescribing a new form of legalism; he
is describing the nature of hearts that trust in him. For example, when we
trust in Christ, we no longer have anything to hide from him. That isn’t
because we are suddenly sinless. It’s because we trust him to love us
unconditionally and to forgive our sins, sins that we are no longer afraid
to show him.
Because we trust Christ, we can commit our fears and anxieties to him,
which frees us from the need to get even or get back at others. In other
words, we know that others, like us, are measured by Christ’s love and
grace, and that takes the starch out of our natural tendency to condemn
Whether it’s in traffic, at the courthouse or around the dinner table,
we’re no longer slaves to our raw impulses to condemn others—we are free to
forgive others as God, for Christ’s sake, forgave us.
Matthew 18:35 is a condemnation only to those who don’t trust
Christ—their selfish measuring rod is the only standard they know – and the
only one they understand. But for those who trust the Redeemer, there is
only one measure—the ever-unfolding height and depth of the love of Christ.
I’m Joseph Tkach, speaking of life.